A federal inmate who led authorities to the skeletal remains of a Wilmington teen reported missing in July 2011 has pleaded guilty to the teen’s death.
Alan Leroy Johnson, 26, pleaded guilty in Brunswick County Superior Court on Tuesday to a charge of second-degree murder in connection with the death of 17-year-old Al’Quon Flowers, whose remains were found in a wooded area of Hooper Road in Leland on Nov. 5, 2015.
The charge was entered in court for a plea Tuesday on a bill of information, which is a court document that is signed and agreed upon by the defendant and bypasses the need for indictment by a grand jury, according to Assistant District Attorney Lee Bollinger.
Flowers was reported missing from the Wilmington area on July 19, 2011. According to Bollinger, it was the defendant who had led authorities to the site where Flowers’ remains were found.
On Nov. 3, the district attorney’s office met with the family and other law enforcement officers, when it was agreed that Johnson would take authorities to the site in exchange for a plea deal. Two days later, the skeletal remains of the victim were found in a wooded area of Brunswick County. A pathology report from East Carolina University in Greenville later confirmed the remains were Flowers’.
“They wanted his remains,” Bollinger said about his meeting with the family. “And that was the price they had to pay and they were willing to pay that price. So there’s some context…how on an egregious crime such as this, we end up with this type of plea.”
At the time of Flowers’ disappearance, law enforcement in the Wilmington area was also investigating a series of armed robberies that occurred between June and July 2011. The case involved multiple defendants in the New Hanover County area and Johnson was one of the suspects charged in the case. During the investigation and pursuit of the suspects, law enforcement became involved in a high-speed chase that ended in Bladen County in July 2011. The vehicle seized in the chase was found with Flowers’ blood inside, Bollinger said.
Through the investigation, it was determined Flowers was with Johnson at a home in Leland prior to his disappearance, Bollinger said. Based on the information provided by the suspects, it was alleged that Johnson shot and killed the victim and transported him in the car that was later used in the high speed chase in Bladen County. Johnson became a suspect but was never charged in the case.
The armed robbery cases were later pursued in federal court. The defendants linked to the armed robberies were prosecuted, including Johnson who went to trial on the armed robbery charges and was found guilty, then sentenced to 50 years in federal prison.
However, the outcome of the case was reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals, which according to the court opinion found prejudicial errors in the admission of a two-hour long interview with law enforcement, as well as error in jury instructions. Instead of retrying the case, the U.S. Attorney’s Office decided to offer a plea, Bollinger said.
Johnson later entered a plea to the armed robbery charges and on Dec. 22, 2015 received an active federal sentence of 270 months in prison, Bollinger said. On the charge of second-degree murder, Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Ola Lewis sentenced Johnson to 143-181 months in prison following his plea on Tuesday. As part of that plea agreement, the sentence will run concurrent with his federal sentence.
A group of Flowers’ family members gathered in the courtroom Tuesday for Johnson’s plea and supported the district attorney’s office in the outcome of the case.
Gary Hines, Flowers’ father, stated in court that Johnson had been a friend to the family and frequented their house.
“He was a friend of mine…I need him to understand he betrayed my trust really bad. You took my son away from me,” Hines said. “I’m glad it’s over. We went through a lot of struggle…for four years. I have to say Brunswick County, they did the job.”
The district attorney’s office’s main objective in the case was to bring the plea to the family and see what they wanted to accomplish in the case, Bollinger said.
About 20 percent of Flowers’ remains were recovered from the wooden area in Leland, Bollinger said. A cause of death was unable to be determined by medical examiners, he added.
“I think it speaks to the love they have for each other, and the love they have for Al’Quon, that they wanted to recover, they wanted to bring him home and they wanted some closure,” Bollinger said. “And they have been good to work with, personable and nice, despite the grief that they’ve experienced. And it feels good to stand here with them today and know that they were able to bring that child home and they were able to see some justice in this case.”
Raleigh attorney Daniel Johson, of Willis, Johnson & Nelson, PPLC, represented Alan Johnson in both the federal and state case.